Book of the week: Hollywood screenwriter trilogy

In a previous post, I mentioned how I like to read about and study Hollywood because it makes my own industry look sane and rational. The people who create and run television shows and films cope with a level of chaos and randomness that would cause most high-tech entrepreneurs I know, myself included, to switch careers faster than you can say “the deal fell through”.

Writers in Hollywood are a particularly interesting species, in that they combine a primary creative role with practically no control over the finished product.

Three great books on the television and film business as seen through the eyes of writers are:

  • Adventures in the Screen Trade by the great William Goldman who wrote such classic films as Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and The Princess Bride. I think it’s the best book ever written about screenwriting. Probably the most memorable part is Goldman’s assertion that “nobody knows anything” — Goldman argues quite thoroughly that Hollywood, after 80 years of institutional experience creating movies and television shows,is still completely unable to predict which projects will succeed and which will fail.

  • Billion-Dollar Kiss by Jeffrey Stepakoff, a professional television writer who worked extensively on Dawson’s Creek. This is probably the best book on the current state of the television industry — which has changed radically in the last several years, due in large part to the rise of reality programming — from the perspective of someone who writes for television for a living.


  • Conversations with My Agent by Rob Long is one of the funniest books I have ever read. Long was a young writer on the hit series Cheers and on top of the world, until Ted Danson punched the eject button and the show shut down. He then embarked on the entrepreneurial adventure of creating his own television show from scratch. The straightforward narrative of life in the TV trenches in the 1990’s is interspersed with marvelous screenplay-like interchanges between Long, his agent, and various other Hollywood denizens.